Erica Vogel F’19 Explores the Creation and Consumption of Globalization through K-Pop in Mexico


Erica M. Vogel F’19, Professor of Anthropology at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, has long been interested in transnational connections between Asia and Latin America. So, when her Mexico City-based brother-in-law mentioned that his friends had stopped talking about Lady Gaga and had started talking about K-pop (Korean pop music), her interest was piqued.

“I was fascinated by the possibility of tracing the evolution and movement of a global fad to see how it connected different groups and changed in meaning and scope over time,” Vogel explained.

In 2019, she was awarded a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship for her project, “K-Pop in Mexico: Creating and Consuming Globalization through ‘La Ola Coreana.’” It explores the rise of K-pop in Mexico as a venue through which people with unequal privileges establish connections and imagine themselves as producers and consumers of global trends. (For those unfamiliar with the genre, check out Vogel’s favorite K-pop song, “Dynamite” by BTS, which her 3- and 6-year-old kids love to dance to.)
Erica (right) at the Korean Cultural Center in Mexico City in 2019
Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowships recognize humanities and interpretive social science faculty who teach at two-year institutions and their vital contributions to scholarship, teaching, and their communities. For Vogel, the fellowship was key in allowing her to conduct ethnographic research in Mexico City in 2019, and plan travel to Seoul once quarantine restrictions are lifted.

“Transnational fieldwork is expensive and often requires finding multiple grants to cover each leg,” she said. “However, the flexibility of the Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship terms and requirements allowed me to plan multi-sited research over an extended period, which is exactly how I like to study global patterns.”

During Vogel’s time in Mexico City, she was able to attend Hallyu Fest, a K-pop festival, which included fan club meetings, K-pop dance classes, and demonstrations of taekwondo and artistic crafts.
Ofrenda to Min Ho Lee set up by the Minoz Mexico Fan Club

“Some of my favorite parts of the day were conducting participant observation at a fan event for the actor Min Ho Lee,” she said. “Their display of his photos caught my eye because it resembled an ofrenda, or type of altar, and reminded me of a story I heard during a preliminary research trip from a woman who told me her granddaughter had moved aside all of the saints on the family’s altar to make room for her K-pop posters. It was an example of both the humor and reverence I saw in their fan practices.”

“It was also notable that the fans in this space rarely overlapped with the fans we met in other spaces around the city, including those dancing to K-pop songs with their friends in the center of Mexico City on the weekends,” she explained. “This demonstrated the discrete flows K-pop fans participated in and how they were divided by class, age, and regional lines.”
Erica takes notes on a K-pop dance cover group practicing in public Mexico City spaces
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it interrupted Vogel’s plans, including postponing her fieldwork in Seoul and cancelling a proposed conference for student research on globalization. However, she was able to use funds from the fellowship to co-design a research project about equity and belonging on the Saddleback College campus, and train student researchers in ethnographic methods. Many of those students have now gone onto to universities including UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, and UC Irvine, bringing new research skills with them.

“We have the chance to be a transformative place for students, to help them find their passions and develop their skills in ways that can make an enormous difference in their options for transfer and the ways they experience the world,” Vogel said of community colleges. “I try to share my work with my students in a way that will inspire them to ask their own questions about the world around them.”

An open access e-book version of Vogel’s Migrant Conversions: Transforming Connections Between Peru and South Korea is available at this link.

A chapter on her preliminary research, “K-pop in Mexico: Flash Mobs, Media Stunts, and the Momentum of Global Mutual Recognition,” is published in Pop Empires: Transnational and Diasporic Flows of India and Korea.

ACLS is now accepting applications online for the next round of Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowships. The deadline is 9 pm EDT, October 27, 2021, and more information is available here.